Something’s Missing

November 28, 2007

cook.jpgMy mom was a pretty good cook. At least I thought so. She laid out a good square meal. Some days you knew what you were going to have before you hit the table. She would get in a kind of a cooking rhythm. After pay day when she had been to the store there would be something with fresh fruit, like Waldorf Salad or maybe a wilted salad with bacon dressing. Closer to the next pay we would get an orange Jello something with shredded carrots. Not one of my favorites. She had some old standards that I came to love. Now we call it comfort food. Back then we just called it dinner.

I liked to hang around in the kitchen when she cooked. Once in awhile she would let me help peel potatoes or maybe stir something. The thing is, I really didn’t pay too much attention to what she actually was doing. I liken it to riding in the car as opposed to driving. I don’t pay much attention to details, like how we got there, but I know when it’s time to get out of the car.

This actually worked out well for me up until the time I was stirring my own pot. Often times the phone cord would be stretched across the kitchen while she coached me step by step. I would hang on every word, following the directions with painstaking detail. Finally, and with a great sense of accomplishment, I would carry my creation to the table.

More often then not, it became apparent with the first bite that something was missing. It may have looked the same, but it sure as heck didn’t taste that way. Not that it was bad, mind you. It just wasn’t the same. The only way to get the real thing was to have dinner at her house.

Then one day as I hovered over her while she made Chili, I caught her adding something she left out of her recipe. What in the heck was up with that? She shrugged it off with an innocence that only a mother can get by with. But I can tell you that after that day I never missed an opportunity to soak up every detail of her culinary efforts.

Up until Thanksgiving, there were only two things I still hadn’t gotten. One was her wonderful bread pudding. The other was Waldorf Salad. I finally quit trying both long before the internet was my friend. While trolling for recipes on Thanksgiving Eve I chanced upon one for the salad and found the secret ingredient. Lemon juice. LEMON JUICE! It sounds so simple. Of course that recipe did not have the marshmallows that she added. But finally I got it right.

Short of saying she left things out on purpose, she kept me coming back to cook with her. Whether by design or not. Pretty darn sneaky.


Waldorf Salad

1/2 cup chopped, slightly toasted walnuts
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red seedless grapes, sliced
1 sweet apple, cored and chopped
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp fresh LEMON JUICE!!
a pinch of salt
and Viola’s addition – marshmallows

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Add salt. Mix in the apple, celery, grapes, and walnuts. And marshmallows.


10 Responses to “Something’s Missing”

  1. Hilary Says:

    Looks and sounds yummy!

    There’s something to be said about capturing a moment in time in such a way that it makes an onlooker feel nostalgiac about someone else’s memory. You’ve managed to do just that. 🙂

  2. katy Says:

    would never have thought to putting marshmallows with a salad and now i want to try it!

  3. Tink Says:

    My Grandma, Great-Grandma, and Mom have all been known to leave ingredients out when relaying a recipe. Usually its when they’re giving it to someone outside the family. But they’ve done it to me as well. Aren’t women funny? 🙂

  4. daddy d Says:

    The learning that went on during that inaction was a great thing. See how things are done first hand is a very good way to learn. It provides a model of what one is to do themselves. Moms are the source of much learning on all levels. Such Joy!

  5. dilling Says:

    I always feel like I am the only one to ever say this(besides my brother and my sister!), but my mom is one of the worst cooks I have ever encountered with the savantlike exceptions of her blackberry pie, and her roast and potatoes …now I know how much meat tenderizer(MSG) she added to those roasts and avoid that recipe, but have never been able to figure out the pie…I just make cobbler instead. I turned into a good cook, regardless. My sister is a good cook, too. I don’t know about my brother…I think his wife has always been the one to cook if I am there for a meal….

  6. coffeypot Says:

    Was it lemon she added to the chili, too?

  7. Did you know the primary purpose of the lemon juice is to keep the apples from turning brown? Your Waldorf Salad looks delish! I always try to whip up a batch for either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

  8. Willowtree Says:

    While I loved my mother, for the most part she was a god awful cook.

  9. corky Says:

    Adding Marshmallows to a salad is a great idea. I would probably pick everything else out of the salad though. 😉

  10. pjlibrarian Says:

    Oh, how I remember our menus matching up with pay day. But, I must admit I disliked the orange jello with shredded carrots the most. Yukkkkkkk! and to this day I will not go near a jello mold that even looks like there is something in it besides marshmallows. Love your mom’s recipe quirks.

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